SPEAKING OF EDUCATION: Research for the New Millennium

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SPEAKING OF EDUCATION: Research For the New Millennium

Are you tired of the new millennium yet? Lord knows I am. Tired of conferences predicting the status of African Americans in the new millennium, the status of education in the new millennium, 10 steps for making it in the new millennium and you get my drift.

There will be no magic in the "new millennium," no magic dust sprinkled and spread to make things change considerably just because we are now using a "2" instead of a "1" as the first digit to delineate the year. Indeed, I have only one prediction for the millennium. If you are an idiot on December 31, 1999, you will still be an idiot on January 1, 2000. In other words, a new date won't change anything unless other changes are made.

This is important when we think about the connection between the academy and the community, and the role that research plays in establishing African American community priorities. For too long, we have been the researched instead of the researchers. Indeed, would the field of sociology exist were it not for "Black pathologies" for curious White folks to probe into? Imagine conversation about the Irish underclass, or the Jewish underclass, or the propensity for Italians to have out of wedlock births! Any of these ethnic groups would bring political pressure -- and more -- to bear to stop the damaging din. But such pressure has been useless in halting so-called research based attacks on African Americans.

Anyone who has ever taken a statistics class knows that you can lie with statistics and that numbers can tell you anything you'd like to know. If 27 percent of the African American population is poor, that means that 73 percent is not, but we have spent more time studying poverty than survival. African American economists can talk about the $500 billion in income that passes through our hands annually, but few have focused on the fact that we have but 1.45 percent of the nation's wealth.

Further, while most of us can extensively prognosticate on the problems, few are prepared to propose solutions. The African American professorate is often dismissed as irrelevant, and one can see why. We suffer a paralysis of analysis and cannot explain to young African Americans how our research will transform their world. We understand the trends, and wax eloquently about the globalization and the proliferation of technology as the two trends that will shape our lives in the early 21st century.

But we have yet to use the trends to change our reality by, for example, encouraging high school students to take languages and avail themselves of foreign travel opportunities, or by motivating business students to consider international commerce as important as domestic commerce. …